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The Clever Antics of Lizard





Angels whisper warnings

which I am too human to hear


* * * 


To: Bart Arnold

Re: essays/torture/hell

For me, reading and writing outweigh teaching in the same way that love outweighs like. I do teach, once in a while, and I like it, but despise assigning homework, giving grades, and other educational duties. I especially deplore reading essays. Essays are torture. If there’s a hell and I’m going, I’ll be down there grading essays.


* * * 


substitute teaching a kindergarten class


I get there, the bell rings

and all the 5 year olds come in,

hang their backpacks in the closet,

then sit on the carpet in front of me.


The syllabus says:

1 Take roll

2 Count up to ten

3 Recite the A, B, C’s


But before I can say a word

a little boy raises his hand.


“Yes?” I ask.


With a serious face

he says,

“I have a bunk bed.”


“Nice,” I respond,

but am interrupted by another hand

held high in the air.


I call on a small girl

who says with sincerity,

“My cousin’s seven.”


Now almost all the hands

are in the air and I say,

“Hold on!  Hands down!

Everyone put your hands down!

I still gotta take roll!


* * *


To: David Takahashi

Re:  red flag to the landlady 

One idiosyncrasy involved with living in a garage is that the bathroom is in the house. I save empty water bottles, gallon-size, and when it’s an emergency or I’m too lazy to make the trek through the courtyard, down the corridor and around to the house, I piss in one of them. In the morning or later that day, I place it in the dumpster in the alley. I suppose it’s not sanitary, and probably illegal, but worse things happen in the world.

Our complex consists of eight duplexes and garages surrounding one courtyard/parking area. Garage electricity comes on at night. I can plug an extension cord into our kitchen during the day but it’s like waving a red flag to the landlady. Nevertheless, that’s what I do on the weekends. Weekdays, I either return from work and other activities after the power is on or else I occupy myself with other endeavors until it does. 

During the week, I wake at four in the morning. I say a prayer, exercise for thirty minutes, and then go into the house, taking my keys, a towel and, when it rains, an umbrella. Then, pinching my boxers under an elbow and carrying my lunch in a plastic sack, I lock the door and return to the garage with the towel wrapped around my waist. It used to be a cold, dreaded walk in winter, until I bought a bathrobe.


* * *


Tuesday, April 16, 2002 


Do you know that Chinese proverb: It is impossible to know the results of your actions? It seems to me that if we knew the future, we could change it and, therefore, it would be impossible to see it, right? For example, if I knew that I was going to crash my car while driving home today, I would either not drive home, or else go a different way and then the future I had seen would not happen and so what was it that I had seen? Meanwhile, everyone else involved in the accident (other drivers, police officers and paramedics) would also have envisioned a future that didn’t occur.

Maybe we can see the future but as it’s always in motion because people can alter it, it looks blurry and so we think we can’t see it. Like right now, if I imagine the future, I see a blur of black, white and gray like snow on a television screen. Is that it and can I change it like a channel?

What if we could alter the past? What if I regretted having eaten grits with sauerkraut for breakfast this morning and could go back and eat toast instead? Is that possible? By altering an action in the past, I would undo the aftermath that resulted from that action and might even disappear because, heck, I could kill myself like that. Maybe eating grits with sauerkraut is the reason I’m still alive now because, had I poured myself a bowl of cereal, I’d have saved seconds, left earlier and crashed my car and died.

I was invited to a party tonight and the thing is: I get up at four-fifteen in the morning. It’s difficult to enjoy myself at a party when I get up at four-fifteen because I can’t stop thinking about the fact that I get up so early. Go to the party or not? What if the girl of my dreams is at the party? What if I don’t go and therefore never meet the girl of my dreams and then die a lonely old fart? What if I go to the party, oversleep the next morning, arrive late to work, get fired and then end up sleeping in the gutter for the rest of my life? I might die a lonely old fart. The Chinese are right: It’s impossible to know the results of your actions.

What’s new with you? How’re they treating you in there? Good? Bad? Ugly? Is it easier to stomach now that they let you out a few hours a week? Are you adapting? Starting to like it in there? I’ll bet that by the end of a year you’ll want to stay and they’ll have to drag you out of there. You’ll be screaming for more. I’m sure of it.

P.S. Happy Chaplin’s birthday! (1889-1977)


* * *


To: Paul Shepard

Re: my pal, my pet

When I was a boy, I saw my puppy, my pal, my pet, Heidi the dog—with her furry black head and that pink tongue lolling like it was stretching to lick the ground—run straight into the street, hit the hubcap of a passing car, and split open her skull. It was my first experience with death and witnessing it in such a brutal manner confused me. I saw brains, puddles of blood, and felt bad for the man who was driving as I stood staring.

My brother and sister screamed as it happened and then burst into sobs. The man parked, exited his car and I watched my parents emerge from the house. They consoled my brother and sister and then my dad calmed the driver. While ushering me inside, I turned to my mom and, blurry with tears, cried, “Can we get another dog?”


* * *


Sunday, June 23, 2002 

Dear Bradshaw,

First of all, what’s a mistake? Is it a mistake when a three-year-old reaches out to touch a hot stove? Is it a mistake when a couple in love marries, but divorces twenty years later? Is it a mistake when I buy a book and don’t enjoy reading it? If you make a mistake and learn your lesson, it’s not a mistake.

Don’t be bitter. Once you start pointing the finger of blame there’s no end to the number of culprits you can indicate. Be stoic, suffer silently, and remember that you’re responsible for your own actions.

It’s up to you to decide if you made a mistake or not. We’re our own judges.


* * *


Substitute teacher report

Mrs. Goosh,

Do you realize you have a student named Perfecto in period two? What is this country coming to? Next thing you know parents will call their kids Stupendous, Awesome or Radical. Imagine me: Sensational Scott.

I fear the future where people name their children Firecracker and Hallelujah or Amen, Kangaroo or Boomerang. A name should be a name. Not a grunt, not a groan and definitely not an adverb or a superlative.

What says society when it names its children with phrases or entire sentences like “Hey, Pass the Salt” or “Come On Outta There”?

I don’t know what to make of it. It’s ridiculous already. I hope you had a wonderful weekend. Welcome back!

Your Sub,



* * *


To: Bart Arnold

Re: Hitler was right

Right now the class is completing a worksheet about World War II. A girl said to me, “I think Hitler was right to kill the Jews because that’s what they deserve for crucifying Jesus.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t the Romans who crucified Jesus?” I asked.

She said, “That’s not what my pastor said.”


* * *


Saturday, September 28, 2002 

Dear Bradshaw,

What do you think about before you fall asleep? What do you do during your free time? Who, in your opinion, is the most important person who has ever lived? What is your highest aspiration? If you could travel back in time, what moments in history would you witness? What’s something somebody said to you that you’ve never forgotten?

Before I fall asleep I think about the lovely ladies I saw that day, or flowers. I think about the mistakes I made and how I can avoid making the same ones in the future. I think about who I am, who I was, and who I will be tomorrow. I think about you sometimes, pal. During my free time I read, write, play the harmonica, listen to music, take walks and dream.

The most important person, in my opinion, is Buddha or Jesus. I love prophets. My highest aspiration is to self-perfect until there’s less than the smallest amount of me. I want to transcend to a higher evolution, to achieve nirvana. If I could travel back in time, I would witness the first human being born, the earliest form of musical instrument, or else I would watch Moses part the Red Sea so I could return to tell what really happened.

“Surround yourself with nourishing people.” That’s something someone said to me that I’ve never forgotten.

Your seesaw,



* * *


To: Paul Shepard

Re: my grandma’s grief

My grandpa died of prostate cancer, nine years ago. At the funeral, my grandma’s grief was so severe that she dropped to the ground and lay there sobbing until others forced her to her feet and carried her on. He died three weeks after the diagnosis and it hit her hard.

My grandma lives in a convalescent home now, sharing her room with one, and sometimes two, other ladies. I visit her once a week, my mom goes every day, my dad sometimes, and my brother and sister as often as possible. She’s been in bed, suffering pneumonia and grinding coughs for two years. She stares at the blurs of walls and various assortments of flowers, oblivious to everything but the inevitable. She’s partially deaf so I have to scream to be heard. The place is depressing. The air sticks to me like sap and there’s a constant hum of machines and echoing music mixed with her roommate’s television.

Today I asked my grandma if she remembers her dreams. She was quiet for a few moments and then she looked at me and said, “There’s one.” I asked her to tell me about it and it seemed like she was going to, but then she laid her head back and closed her eyes.

Earlier in my visit, I was telling her about my Italian class when her phone rang. She answered it and I heard my mom’s voice in the background. My grandma told her she had a visitor and my mom asked who it was. My grandma was silent, struggling to remember my name. Then she looked at me and said, “I’m sorry. What’s your name?”

My grandma says funny things sometimes. Once, her eyelids were drooping and I asked if she was tired. “No,” she said, “I’m not tired. Sometimes my eyelids get heavy and are hard to hold up.”

Today she was talking about something that had happened sixty years ago when suddenly, her eyes popped open, her hands spread and she said, “Everything that was, isn’t.”


* * *


It’s dark and I’m running through shadows away from a monster.  I imagine a door and suddenly it’s before me.  I start to open it, hoping to escape, but I’m moving slower than the monster is catching up.

As I grip the knob and pull open the door, I realize I’m not going to make it.  I want to see what it looks like so I turn around to behold a figure, cloaked in blackness, with beams of light shooting out from where its face should be.  The instant it reaches me, we become one, and I wake up surging with excitement.


* * *


Monday, December 9, 2002 

Dear Bradshaw,

Would you give up a lung for world peace? Would you lose a kidney to feed the hungry and house the homeless? If I asked you for your arms to cure cancer and your legs to give sight to the blind, would you be willing? What would you do, Bradshaw, really?

Jesus, Galileo, Gandhi, what do you think of those guys? Do you think of those guys? Is it possible that, perhaps, just maybe, I might be the next Albert Einstein or Charlie Chaplin or Moses? After all, how hard can it be to part the Red Sea? Let’s see someone part the Pacific Ocean, or hop from here to eternity, or turn the Earth into a raccoon. Let’s see someone win the lottery fifty times in a row, or memorize the Bible, backward.

Think about Euripides, Aristophanes, Socrates and Aristotle. Anyone can happen, with or without luck, but who really remembers their names and can recite all their sentences by syllable? So many slip into the void of oblivion, volumes of names unknown. Remember Beofolus, Hippintrotter and Qullosophes? Naturally not!


* * *


Substitute teacher report

Mr. Piedmont,

I apologize for not covering your class today. I sent a second-generation clone of myself. It is, however, an exact replica and I’m sure nobody noticed. The reason for my absence is unsatisfactory. I was too tired to get up in the morning. When my alarm rang, my head was magnetized to the pillow and, no matter how hard I tried, impossible to lift.

Luckily, I had left the clone charging all night so it was supplied with sufficient electricity. Besides, it has been programmed to plug into classroom sockets during snack, lunch and, if necessary, discreetly during passing periods. Although only three months off the assembly line, it is, I assure you, almost as efficient as I.

Please don’t tell anybody about this because, as you know, they won’t pay me for a day I didn’t work and I need the money. Again I apologize.



* * *


I’m a lizard, resting on a rock. The sun heats me like a lover’s kiss and I feel strengthened by its invigorating energy. I’m the color of a walnut shell with a scattering of hazel patterns decorating my back. My body is scaly and my tail long. I feel itchy and irritable as my skin stiffens, flakes, and then peels off completely.

I’m still a lizard but now with human hands. I etch words in the sand with my fingernail, describing this dream. Then I wake up and write it down for real.

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